Some properly useful things I’ve learnt from writing every day for six months

Today, six months ago, I came up with the buffoon of an idea to write a blog every day for a year.

It was December and I had been thinking about some challenges I wanted to set for 2016. I’m not one for New Year’s Resolution as such, but the thought of writing every day came into my head as a way to get better at something I used to do but rarely gave time to anymore.

My follow on thought was the real kicker: if you’re going to do it every day for a year, why wait another month? Start today. And immediately I was committed.

Talk about all or nothing, right?

Writing every day is a personal challenge on multiple fronts. The least of which being I wanted to combat my excuse of being ‘too busy’. If I was going to be successful in posting for 365 days straight, that mindset had to go.

I used to look back to when I set this goal and almost feel embarrassed. I thought: “this is all a bit presumptuous. Who’s going to care about what I’ve got to say?”

And in a way, I was right. But that realisation in itself became an important steer. Writing had to be for me. If at any point I felt I was catering a message to appeal to or appease someone else, I needed to question my motivations.

That thinking really sits across a lot of things we do in life; we have to be our own driver.

This was a big learning for me, but needless to say it wasn’t the only piece of wisdom I’ve pocketed away through my writing.

So, in the spirit of marking six months, I thought I’d share some of the other gems, which go beyond fact or grammar, from the past 172 posts.

We always have time, a lot of us just waste it

I’m less inclined to accept “busy” as an excuse anymore. Not only from myself but from other people too. Writing has forced me to find, and therefore realise, we have more time in our day that we give credit for. Pockets of dead time are everywhere, we simply don’t utilise them.

Usually, these spare minutes are spent scrolling social media, playing games or listening to music. And I’m not saying doing those things are wrong, down time is important. However, if we really want to get something done, it’s a matter of scrutinising and reprioritising every possible portion of our day.

Despite feeling utterly car sick, I’ve written posts on buses. I’ve made audio notes while walking to work. I’ve even managed to compose a post on a particularly busy day when the only chance I had was the few five minute breaks I took to go to the bathroom.

Time exists, it’s a matter of squeezing it out.

Never underestimate where an idea might go. But know that if you don’t do anything, it’ll only ever stay in your head

This is with specific reference to the #NoFilterFeb project which was a spin off from a post about Instagram. If I had known what that original blog was going to turn into, I mightn’t have even written it in the first place. Or at least I’d have put a lot more pressure on myself to make everything I did perfect.

Whether it’s that I’m just more aware of it now, or it has indeed started to become more of a trend, people really do seem to focus on the whole process needing to be planned out before they start anything. There seems to be a resistance to get going without a perfect critical path leading to success.

While the ideal scenario is probably half way between both, I can’t understate the importance of just starting.

It’s nice to have a plan, but things rarely go to plan anyway. It’s better to get a few wheels in motion and see where they takes you.

If we only ever mark our own homework, we’ll struggle to get better

Asking someone to literally break apart a piece of work you’ve created is hard, but it’s an important exercise in being objective.

My old boss used to refer to this as ‘killing the babies’ which is horrendous yet somewhat illustrative of how we can feel when someone tells us what we’ve done could in fact be better.

But a second set of eyes is important; having our thinking challenged is good. It makes work better and gives us a wider understanding of how our thinking may be perceived by others.

I remember the first time a friend told me the post I’d written sounded ‘indulgent’. I’ve also been told ‘that’s not your best’, ‘it’s decent’, ‘that one is a bit boring’ and, the all time highlight, ‘you sound like an ad wanker’.

In all these instances, my reaction was to feel offended, what do you even know, mate? However, after going back and figuring out how I could combat these points with another edit improved the final product immensely.

Plus, you never see your own typos. So there’s that too.

Even if they don’t make sense, write ideas down. You will forget them if you don’t

The number of ideas I’ve had when I’m drifting off to sleep in insane. It’s like I go into hyper-creative mode right before rem. And how many of these bright ideas do I recall the next morning? Zit.

That’s not an exaggeration either. No matter how profound the idea that strikes is, I have never once been able to remember it the next morning if I haven’t written it down.

Keeping a piece of paper and a pen next to my bed is a piece of advice I was given at primary school. Turns out my teacher knew a thing or two. It’s worthwhile doing.

Bad habits form thick and fast

Writing every day caused me to see bad habits I didn’t even know I had. Particuarly with my overuse of certain words and phrases.

Starting paragraphs with ‘so’ and using the word ‘actual’ were the first to make the repeat offenders list; I still pause every time I type them to question if I’m being lazy or too colloquial.

More recently, I’ve had friends call me out on a few bigger things too. Largely around the self-deprecating stance I take with my writing. It’s made me realise I’ve fallen into a trap of sounding unworthy and apologetic about having an opinion. Which is so off for me.

Often with the topics I write about I’m well aware that there will be a cohort of geniuses who have studied the subject for years, making them qualified to have opinions. Whereas I’ve got none of that, I’ve just got what I think.

Seeing this pattern form through my writing has shown me there must be some deep set imposter syndrome going on. It’s not something I expected to learn about myself from writing, but I’m glad I’ve identified it because now I can work on breaking it.

Opinions on the up, watch out.

Some topics are scary

Hiding behind a non-identity when dishing out stuff online is easy. Just ask YouTube. People say what they want and there’s no knock on effect. Generation Keyboard Warrior, and all that.

Writing is a bit different though.

It wasn’t until I started talking about some controversial and sensitive topics that I realised articulating thoughts when your identity is 100% attached to what you’re saying can be really hard.

When I wrote about rape, I was hesitant to put it out on my other social accounts. When I wrote about the difficulties of having a disabled brother I fretted about how it would be perceived by my friends who never hear me talk about it. I was a bit concerned a post where I criticised my own industry and I was terrified when I pubished the blog about about knowing when it’s time to leave a job, knowing full well my team read what I write.

As it turns out, they’re some of my best pieces.

Writing has forced me to be confrontational. Not with other people, but with myself. I’ve had to really get to the core of what I think on a topic and build up the confidence to put my name next to my point of view.

And sometimes that is a bit scary, but being able to do it on paper has had a huge impact on my propensity to do it into real life too.

Writing has been a good exercise in cementing my thinking and firming up my personal opinions. It has been an unexpected aid to better communication and so I’m glad for the daily practice.

If you walk around writing on your phone, you may walk into a pole

This point doesn’t live much beyond its title. But it’s still important.

And for the record: twice.

Celebrating half way is important. If my research into return journeys is correct, then the run home to December 5th will be quicker and more familiar.

People have already started to ask me if I’ll keep going once the year is up. The answer right now is I don’t know. I might, but I’d like to think I’ll shift focus to something else by then. What? I’m not sure exactly, but if the last six months are anything to go by, it’ll probably be inspired by something I’m yet to even think about. And that in itself is exciting.

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